JOHN AND WINSTON CHANG, THE UNRECOGNIZED TWIN GRANDSONS OF CHANG KAI-SHEK

CHIANG KAI-SHEK'S UNRECOGNIZED TWIN GRANDSONS

Keith Bradsher wrote in the New York Times, “The first hint that life might not be just what it seemed came when John Chang was in grade school. The other children teased him and his identical twin brother, Winston, about their eerie resemblance to one of Taiwan's most powerful public figures, the head of its secret police, Chiang Ching-kuo. Some whispered that they were his sons. The boys dismissed the rumors at first. ''We said: 'You're crazy. If we were, why do we live in shambles,' '' Mr. Chang recalled. At the time, the twins' maternal aunt and uncle were raising them in a small house in Hsinchu, 50 miles southwest of Taipei. The family was so poor that they bathed at a sink. The home had no electrical devices except a couple of bare light bulbs, which worked only at night because they siphoned current illegally from a nearby street lamp. [Source: Keith Bradsher, New York Times, Published: January 11, 2003 /^\]

“But when John was 16 his grandmother told him it was true. He and his brother were indeed the illegitimate sons of Chiang Ching-kuo. What is more, that made them the grandsons of Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek, the legendary figure who led China's Nationalist government from 1928 through the 1940's before losing a civil war with the Communists and retreating to Taiwan, where he became the island's absolute ruler. The revelation, in 1958, was astounding to a young boy, not least because he grew up believing that his parents were stranded on the mainland after the civil war ended. ''I had kind of mixed feelings,'' Mr. Chang said. ''I was proud of my family, I was proud of my father, but I could not understand why I could not be with my father, especially when our life was in such bad shape.'' Chiang Ching-kuo eventually ruled Taiwan himself, from Chiang Kai-shek's death in 1975 until his own in 1988. But he never publicly recognized either John or Winston, or said so much as a word to them. /^\

“The boys' mother, Chang Ya-jo, was a cadet during World War II in a training camp run by Chiang Ching-kuo, who was married to a Russian woman. Six months after she gave birth to the twins, she died suddenly during a routine visit to a doctor, Mr. Chang was later told. Many believe that she was murdered by aides to either Chiang Ching-kuo or Chiang Kai-shek, though even today the truth remains murky. Mr. Chang said his brother, who died in 1996, ''once decided to trace out who the real murderer was, and I said that would not be helpful.'' /^\

John Chang, Recognized as the Son of Chiang Ching-kuo

Keith Bradsher wrote in the New York Times, “Despite that rejection, or perhaps because of it, John Chang grew into an earnest, self-disciplined and unusually optimistic man who has propelled himself through the ranks of government by his own wits and is today one of Taiwan's most accomplished diplomats and influential politicians. As chairman of the most powerful committee in Taiwan's legislature, he has finally claimed his parentage. On Dec. 12 the government took the unusual step of issuing him a new identity card, listing Chiang Ching-kuo and his mistress as his parents. [Source: Keith Bradsher, New York Times, Published: January 11, 2003 /^\]

“Unknown to Mr. Chang at the time, Chiang Ching-kuo evidently tried to mitigate some of his childhood poverty. The recent change in his identity card was made after a longtime military aide of the late president testified that Chiang Ching-kuo had sent small sums of money to help support the boys from early childhood on. No DNA test was done, but one of Chiang Ching-kuo's legitimate sons held a ceremony accepting Mr. Chang into the family, and Mr. Chang's famous parentage has been broadly accepted by politicians and the public alike. /^\

“Mr. Chang said he would keep his mother's name in Chinese and for official documents but would start spelling his name as Chiang in English. Fellow politicians warn that the change may hurt his political future by tying him so closely to a family with a controversial history. But for Mr. Chang what is more important is the public recognition where a personal one was always denied. He will finally share the name of the very prominent man he longed to be received by. ''He was more president than father to me,'' Mr. Chang said, ''yet I love him from the bottom of my heart.'' /^\

Barbara Demick wrote in the Los Angeles Times: “Over the years, Chang's paternity evolved from rumor to open secret to matter of fact. On Dec. 12, Taiwan's Interior Ministry issued a new identity card to Chang listing Chiang Ching-kuo as his father. The decision was made largely on the basis of testimony by a 90-year-old former aide to Chiang Ching-kuo who had delivered the money to the twins' relatives. "The president cared very much about the twins. He was very happy after he found out they had passed their college exams," the former aide, Gen. Wang Seng, told a Taipei television station last year. [Source: Barbara Demick, Los Angeles Times, June 20, 2003 <<<]

“Chang threw a large party on Christmas Eve in a Taipei hotel to celebrate his change in status. In interviews, he shrugs off the years of struggling for recognition as a life experience that made him tougher. But his wife, Helen, who published a collection of essays about her husband in 1999, tells a different story: "As for his own father, John carefully suppresses his feelings during the day, but at night he can't keep from dreaming about him," she wrote. "Many nights I have been awakened by John's crying for his father in his sleep." <<<

Life of John and Winston Chang and the Death of Their Mother

Barbara Demick wrote in the Los Angeles Times: “Chang and his twin brother, Winston, (who died in 1996), were born Chang Hsiao-yen and Chang Hsiao-tzu in Guilin, China, in 1942. They took the family name of their mother, Chang Ya-jo, and as adults adopted the English names of their political idols, John F. Kennedy and Winston Churchill. Their mother was an attractive young woman who worked at a training camp for youth enlisting in the fight against Japan. The camp was run by Chiang Kai-shek's Kuomintang army and headed by Chiang Ching-kuo. [Source: Barbara Demick, Los Angeles Times, June 20, 2003 <<<]

“When the brothers were 6 months old, their mother went to dinner at a friend's house and came home complaining of stomach cramps. She went to the hospital and was dead by the next day. Her family suspected that she was killed by Kuomintang loyalists who feared she might hurt the Chiangs, who were in the throes of a power struggle with the communists. Three years ago, Chang visited the hospital in Guilin seeking the records of his mother's death. He was told that all files had been destroyed during the Cultural Revolution. "The rumor is that my mother didn't die of natural causes, but nobody knows for sure and probably will never know," Chang said. <<<

“In 1949, Mao Tse-tung proclaimed the People's Republic of China and Chiang Kai-shek fled with about 2 million followers across the Taiwan Strait. The orphaned Chang twins were among them. The boys settled in the town of Hsinchu, 40 miles southwest of Taipei, the capital, living with their maternal grandmother and an uncle in a sparsely furnished room behind a tiny storefront, where the family eked out a living selling cigarettes and groceries. The twins lived as poor refugees and were told that their parents had been left behind on the mainland in the chaos of civil war. <<<

“They had no inkling that their grandfather was Taiwan's absolute ruler, a legend in his time. Or that their father was Chiang Ching-kuo, the second-most-powerful man on the island, controlling at various points the armed forces and the intelligence services. Just the same, their lives were touched by mystery. A military man would visit their uncle periodically, parking his jeep on the outskirts of town to avoid undue attention. After each visit, they were a little less poor than before. Once, the boys were awakened by the sound of their grandmother sobbing. She was looking at a photograph. "When you're older, I'll tell you who the lady in the picture is," Chang recalls his grandmother saying. It was not until they were teenagers that their grandmother told them that the woman in the photo was their mother and that money had been sent by their father. “<<<

Growing Up as the Rejected Son of Chiang Ching-kuo

Keith Bradsher wrote in the New York Times, “Chang describes the poverty of his youth as a blessing in disguise, an experience that prevented him from being ''spoiled,'' a term he has used to describe Chiang Ching-kuo's legitimate sons, none of whom achieved particularly distinguished careers. Rumors of his parentage were always rife. But even after Mr. Chang became Taiwan's top career diplomat in 1986, Chiang Ching-kuo -- then Taiwan's president -- went to elaborate lengths to avoid meeting him, going so far as to effectively exclude him from bringing visiting dignitaries to presidential receptions. [Source: Keith Bradsher, New York Times, Published: January 11, 2003 /^\]

“Still, the rejection never dimmed Mr. Chang's affection for the powerful figure who forever denied him even a hint of public recognition, and today a portrait of Chiang Ching-kuo and Chiang Kai-shek hangs in his office. He still treasures a moment two decades ago when Chiang Ching-kuo, as president, scanned a reception room where he happened to be in attendance, one of the rare times they came within sight of each other. ''I was there,'' Mr. Chang recalled. ''I saw my father among the people. Our eyes met. I don't know if he recognized me. He kept his mouth still in his face, but I thought he was smiling at me.''/^\

“After their grandmother told the boys her secret, they tried to visit Chiang Ching-kuo but were turned away, Mr. Chang said. Even as they grew, went off to college and graduate school -- paying their own tuition by working as tutors -- they kept the secret to themselves. They had reason to be careful. Until 1987, Taiwan was under martial law, and people embarrassing to the Chiang family sometimes perished under mysterious circumstances. Helen Chang, John's wife and the mother of his college-age son, said that rumors of his parentage were widespread in Taipei by the time she met him in 1968, but that she did not ask him about them. He told her his secret only after they had been dating for a year, shortly before he proposed. /^\

Barbara Demick wrote in the Los Angeles Times: “ Chiang Ching-kuo became president of Taiwan in 1978 and died in office 10 years later. The twins never met him. Chang saw him in person only once -- at a diplomatic reception in 1973 when Chang was a junior foreign service officer and his father was prime minister. They did not speak, and the encounter was no more intimate than when Chang briefly saw his grandfather. "After Winston and I got married and had our own children, we tried repeatedly to arrange a meeting with our father," Chang said. "The answer always came back that it was not convenient and that we should try to understand." [Source: Barbara Demick, Los Angeles Times, June 20, 2003]

:The twins may have gotten even by following the old adage of living well. Both excelled in school, and by the time they were in their late teens, local newspapers started running stories about the brilliant boys who were rumored to be part of the Chiang family. Meanwhile, Chiang Ching-kuo's three sons from his marriage had less stellar careers. "Our half-brothers were all spoiled. They didn't study hard. Winston and I had to do everything for ourselves," Chang said. Winston Chang enjoyed a successful career in academia, becoming president of the prestigious Soochow University in Taiwan until his death of a cerebral hemorrhage when he was 54.”

John Chang’s Encounter with His Grandfather Chang Kai-shek

Barbara Demick wrote in the Los Angeles Times: “It was 1963 and John Chang was a skinny young cadet completing basic training at a military academy on the west coast of Taiwan. As Chang stood stiffly at attention, Chiang Kai-shek strolled by, inspecting the troops. Their eyes met for a second, and it seemed to Chang that a smile passed across the lips of the older man. [Source: Barbara Demick, Los Angeles Times, June 20, 2003 <<<]

“But there was no way of knowing for sure if the legendary figure, who led the nationalist camp in the Chinese civil war and who was now Taiwan's president, recognized his 21-year-old grandson standing there nervously, barely an arm's length away. "I had this kind of urge in my heart to run up to him. But it was unthinkable. He was the Generalissimo," Chang said of the only time he saw his famous ancestor. <<<

“It would have been a terrible scandal if Chang had spoken up. Along with a twin brother, he was born out of wedlock to a young woman who had an affair with Chiang's son Chiang Ching-kuo, who later became president of Taiwan. Chang had no more of a relationship with his father than he did his grandfather.

John Chang, the Taiwanese Politician

John Chang became a member of the Taiwanese parliament. Barbara Demick wrote in the Los Angeles Times: “ Chang today bears scant resemblance to the tentative young man who was too scared to introduce himself to his grandfather. At 61, he is a bespectacled politician who wears impeccably tailored suits and switches flawlessly among six languages. His office near the National Assembly building in downtown Taipei is crammed with paintings and photographs of Chiang Kai-shek and Chiang Ching-kuo. Indeed, there is so much family memorabilia that one would hardly sense anything unusual -- if not for the fact that Chang is conspicuously absent from the pictures.” [Source: Barbara Demick, Los Angeles Times, June 20, 2003 <<<]

Keith Bradsher wrote in the New York Times, “Mr. Chang worked his way up the diplomatic corps and in 1991 scored a diplomatic and personal coup. Soon after the breakup of the Soviet Union he flew to Moscow, where Chiang Ching-kuo studied in the 1920's, to open ties to Russia's new leaders, the first visit by a top Taiwan diplomat. ''I never told anybody,'' he said, ''but the driving force was I really hoped to be the first son to see where my father spent his university days.'' [Source: Keith Bradsher, New York Times, Published: January 11, 2003 /^\]

“Mr. Chang's early hardships contributed to the skills that have made him one of the Nationalist Party's most popular politicians since Taiwan's transition to democracy after 1987. Unlike most top party leaders, Mr. Chang, fluent in six languages, speaks not only Mandarin, but also Taiwanese and Hakka, two local languages more widely spoken here, which he picked up as a boy on the streets of Hsinchu.” /^\

Demick wrote in the Los Angeles Times: “ John Chang rose through the government ranks to serve at various points as foreign minister, vice premier, assemblyman and secretary-general of the Kuomintang, the nationalist party that had dominated Taiwan's political life since his grandfather's day. He also was briefly a presidential aide but resigned that position in 1999 in a scandal over an extramarital affair. When the Kuomintang lost power in the 2000 elections to the pro-Taiwanese-independence party of President Chen Shui-bian, Chang found his voice in the opposition as a leading advocate of better relations with China.” <<<

“The most frequently voiced criticism of Chang is that he has a way of grabbing more than his share of headlines, exploiting his illustrious lineage to personal advantage. "He's good at publicity," said Hong Chi-chang, a fellow legislator who says the proposal for direct flights came from his ruling party. But Andrew Yang of the Chinese Council of Advanced Policy Studies, a Taipei think tank, praised Chang for using his family connection to Taiwan's advantage. Once considered an archvillain in China for his fervent anti-communism, Chiang Kai-shek has been rehabilitated somewhat in recent years for leading the fight against the Japanese occupation. "He has become the one carrying on the legacy of the Chiang family, and he has done so very effectively," Yang said of Chang. "His family ties give him an advantage in dealing with mainland China, while he enjoys a certain amount of sympathy at home because, for most of his life, he suffered from illegitimacy." <<<

John Chang Calls for Closer Tiers Between Taiwan and China

Barbara Demick wrote in the Los Angeles Times: “ Chang is one of the most prominent voices calling for Taiwan to end its historical enmity with China. Whereas his grandfather spearheaded the fight against communism in the 1940s and his father later ruled the breakaway island of Taiwan almost until the end of the Cold War, the illegitimate offspring of the family is now seeking rapprochement. "It all started when my grandfather was on the mainland fighting the communists. That was five decades ago," Chang said. "Now the entire world has changed." [Source: Barbara Demick, Los Angeles Times, June 20, 2003 <<<]

“Chang scored a coup this year when he organized Taiwan's first flights to the mainland since 1949, the year Chiang Kai-shek's forces retreated to the island and established a government. The charter flights took place over two weeks around Chinese New Year and carried 2,462 passengers. Chang is now pushing for direct cargo flights to the mainland. <<<

“Chang does not think that Taiwan will become part of China in the near future -- or that it should until gaps are narrowed in terms of democratic systems and economics. Nonetheless, he notes with resignation that when he began his diplomatic career in the early 1970s, Taiwan was recognized by more than 100 countries. Today the number has dwindled to 27, many of them tiny dots of land in the Pacific. "Mainland China is changing. That's the reality. And it is a huge market that we cannot afford to ignore," he said. <<<

In May 2003, “Chang enlisted the support of 129 of the legislature's 225 members for direct cargo flights to Shanghai, which he says could compensate for some of the island's economic losses resulting from severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS. Chinese aviation authorities have also endorsed the proposal, but it has generated anger in some corners, including the influential Taipei Times, which last month ran an editorial branding Chang as a self-aggrandizing politico who was "seeking to capitalize on SARS fears." "Chang's proposal shows how little he cares about this nation's security," the English-language newspaper charged.” <<<

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Tourism Bureau, Republic of China (Taiwan), Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books, websites and other publications.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated June 2015

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